Take a Walk on the Wild Side
A Summer Wildflower Tour
Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
While spring is certainly one of the best times of the year to view wildflowers in western Ohio, summer and early fall shouldn’t be overlooked, especially at our local prairies and parks.
While forest floors and grassy areas are the first places to see wildflowers in the spring, it is not until later in the season and into summer that local prairies begin to bloom. When they do, the displays are often large and vibrant, and shouldn’t be missed.
For example, the massive wildflower displays at Goode Prairie Preserve in Bradford are breathtaking. A short trail at the park allows visitors to hike around the perimeter of the prairie, often at eye-level with the tall flowers and grasses, and other times on small vistas overlooking the area. Along the way, patches of wild bergamot and bright orange butterfly weed, not to mention butterflies themselves, make the walk even more colorful.
Another place to find beautiful wildflowers is near waterfalls, including next to Greenville Falls in Covington and Charleston Falls in Tipp City. At both of these locations, a parade of different wildflowers marches through the prairie each summer. It is possible to visit one of these parks one week and see certain kinds of wildflowers in bloom and then return the next to see entirely different ones.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, there are about 1,800 species of native plants found within Ohio’s borders (not all flowering), as well as another 500 nonnative, naturalized species. This diversity has to do with Ohio being a “crossroads state”—meaning it’s influenced by prairie to the west, a boreal climate to the north, Appalachia to the east, and the Ohio River Valley to the south. These varied geographies and climates make Ohio rich in diverse plant life and create the amazing displays found across the Miami Valley.
When visiting some of the larger prairies in the area, it is interesting to remember that at the time of European settlement, prairie land represented about five percent of Ohio’s vegetation—covering about 1,500 square miles. Some of the larger prairies must have been something to see, especially when in full bloom.
Today, 99 percent of Ohio’s indigenous tall grass prairie has been affected by the activities of humankind. This makes what we do have left all the more special.
The following 11 places offer some of the best summer wildflower displays in the region. Most locations require only a short hike to see the prairie flowers, while others can be seen from the road.
First up, Goode Prairie...
Goode Prairie State Nature Preserve
10354 Union Church Rd, Bradford
Goode Prairie sits at the crest and slope of a southfacing bluff overlooking the Stillwater River. This slope has allowed for a natural prairie to flourish. There are two times you should visit this small park. The first is in July when huge fields of gray-headed (yellow) coneflowers bloom. The second is in September when a mix of purple New England aster and golden rod flood the horizon. The prairie also contains wild onion, flowering spruge, hoary puccoon, bluestem grasses and a number of other wildflowers. A best kept secret in Miami County, when visited at the right times, Goode Prairie’s beauty is hard to rival.
Garbry Big Woods Reserve
6660 N. Casstown Sidney Rd, Piqua
Patches of prairie at this park contain a variety of different wildflowers, with several areas acting as monarch butterfly waystations. These planted areas provide shelter and food for butterflies as they migrate through North America and, in the summer, display a rainbow of colors. Most of the prairies at this park can be seen from a vehicle, or without walking very far.
Charleston Falls Preserve
2535 Ross Rd., Tipp City
Often overshadowed by the popular waterfall and cave at the park, the prairie at Charleston Falls is one of the most beautiful in the region. A short walk from the parking lot leads to the Golden Hexagon gazebo where visitors can relax in the shade while being surrounded by a sea of wildflowers and the busy, buzzing sounds of nature. Come back often to watch the landscape and wildflowers change. In the fall, the prairie is enhanced by the orange- and red-leafed trees that surround it.
Greenville Falls State Scenic River Area
9140 Covington-Gettysburg Rd., Covington
A very short trail on the north side of Greenville Creek (near the waterfall viewing area) provides access to a lush prairie. As with many other prairies in western Ohio, during the summer this one seems to offer different blooms every couple of weeks. The different tree species growing in the area add to the colorful landscape.
Shawnee Prairie Preserve
4267 OH-502, Greenville
Along with a variety of wildflowers in bloom throughout the summer, the restored prairies at this park are located next to a historic log house. This setting makes for a very beautiful backdrop in the late summer and fall when the orange and brown foliage in the nearby trees starts to blend with the prairie.
Cedar Bog Nature Preserve
980 Woodburn Rd, Urbana
Cedar Bog is a National Natural Landmark and was the first nature preserve in Ohio purchased with state money. Recognized for its national significance, it ranks the highest of any site in the state on the Ohio Floristic Diversity Index for its great diversity of plants. Wildflower displays can be seen here starting in February when skunk cabbage appears and lasts all the way through late summer and early fall. There is a small fee to hike the handicap accessible boardwalk trail.
Stillwater Prairie Reserve
9750 OH-185, Covington
Along with access to fishing ponds and the Stillwater River, as its name indicates, Stillwater Prairie Reserve is filled with several colorful prairies. A series of hiking trails connects each of them and showcases a variety of different plants starting in June and lasting well into the late summer and early fall. Especially nice are the large fields of purple coneflower. Stillwater Prairie is also a great place to bird watch, with many birds thriving in the prairie lands.
Eldean Covered Bridge
Located off of County Road 25-A between Troy and Piqua
The different wildflowers that bloom around Eldean Covered Bridge keep the landscape changing throughout the year.
F.L. Blankenship Riverside Sanctuary
4112 OH-48, Covington
A small park next to the Stillwater River where several varieties of wildflowers grow throughout the spring, summer and fall. It also contains two old bridges that make for interesting pictures.
Carriage Hill Farm
7800 Shull Rd, Huber Heights
Along with its historical farm and fishing lake, Carriage Hill Farm features four hiking trails that range in length from a half mile to 1.3 miles. The Blue Trail passes through a tall grass prairie that is especially beautiful in the summer and fall.